airplanes taxiway
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

One Major Item is Missing From Customer Service Commitments of Airlines

Does the consumer win or lose here?

The Department of Transportation of the United States has created an interactive dashboard of customer service commitments by ten airlines which are based in the United States to ensure that passengers have easy access to information about services that those airlines provide to mitigate inconveniences to passengers when the cause of a cancellation or delay was due to circumstances within the control of the airline — but one major item is missing.

One Major Item is Missing From Customer Service Commitments of Airlines

The following five commitments to customer service as officially pledged by airlines are for both delays and cancellations which can be controlled by the airlines:

  • Rebook passenger on same airline at no additional cost
  • Rebook passenger on another airline at no additional cost
  • Meal or meal cash/voucher when cancellation results in passenger waiting for 3 hours or more for new flight
  • Complimentary hotel accommodations for any passenger affected by an overnight cancellation
  • Complimentary ground transportation to and from hotel for any passenger affected by an overnight cancellation

Maintenance problems, problems concerning members of the flight crew, the cleaning of passenger cabins, baggage loading; and fueling are five of numerous issues which can cause delays or cancellations of flights but are within the control of the airlines — unlike weather, which no one can control.

In the charts shown below, a green check mark means that an airline has committed to providing that service or amenity to its customers. A red X means the airline has not made that commitment. However, airlines with a red X may provide these services and amenities in some instances in their discretion.

Spoiler alert: The charts are basically the same, with the only difference of Hawaiian Airlines offering to rebook the passenger on another airline at no additional cost due to the cancellation of a flight but not when the flight is delayed.

Click on the chart for an enlarged view. Source: Department of Transportation of the United States.
Click on the chart for an enlarged view. Source: Department of Transportation of the United States.

These airlines and their regional operating partners — which operate flights for them but do not sell tickets — account for approximately 96 percent of the domestic scheduled passenger air traffic.

Customer Service Plans of Airlines Which Are Based In the United States

The following list contains direct links to the plans of airlines to offer customer service to their passengers in the event that a flight is either delayed or canceled:

Final Boarding Call

Airlines are required to adhere to the promises in their customer service plan — including commitments to care for customers in the event of controllable delays or cancellations — and the Department of Transportation of the United States is committed to holding airlines accountable if they fail to do so…

…but one major item is missing from the commitment: vouchers for future flights, which usually amount to hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of dollars; and are in many ways worth much more than some food voucher which might only be worth a sandwich and a beverage at best. I have always thought that offering a voucher with an expiration date of one year was unfair — especially when the customer was completely innocent during irregular operations and was inconvenienced as a result. Vouchers are not the same as refunds.

As for actual refunds for cancellations or significant changes of flights which are implemented by airlines, the carriers are required to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger — regardless of the reason, and including those passengers with non-refundable tickets — should the passenger choose not to accept the alternative offered, such as being rebooked on another flight. The aforementioned commitments do not impact your entitlement or your right to a refund. If you have a problem obtaining a refund that you believe that you are entitled to receive, you may file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.

The Department of Transportation of the United States recently announced a proposed rule for public comment, which — if adopted — would significantly strengthen protections for consumers who seek refunds for airline tickets which they have purchased, as the federal agency claims to have received “a flood of air travel service complaints from consumers with non-refundable tickets who did not travel because airlines canceled or significantly changed their flights or because the consumers decided not to fly for pandemic-related reasons such as health concerns” since early 2020.

The first thought I had when I saw the interactive dashboard was: this was the best that they could do?!? The dashboard is not even aesthetically pleasing — never mind that its intended purpose will be weak at best in practice. To me, it reeks of the typical overreach of a bloated agency of the federal government.

I wonder how much money taxpayers actually paid for this effort, which seems to be one step above ridiculous…

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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